UMass invigorated Frank Martin. Can he reinvigorate UMass basketball?

  • Being at UMass has reinvigorated new men's basketball coach Frank Martin. Now it's his job to reinvigorate the Minutemen and their fanbase. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/29/2022 7:10:38 PM

AMHERST — Frank Martin resembles any of the 5,500 freshmen new to the UMass campus. The Minutemen’s head basketball coach is bright-eyed, learning his way around and hopeful.

“I feel like a little kid again. Everything here has me feeling young again, has me feeling that unknown excitement that we all have when we’re young,” he said. “We don't know the future, but we kind of think everything's gonna be great.”

Martin is 56 years old. He has three kids of his own, one of which is on his UMass roster. The Miami native has spent the past 38 years coaching, the last 10 at South Carolina, which he led to a Final Four in 2017. That includes collegiate stops at Kansas State (and an Elite Eight with future No. 2 overall pick Michael Beasley), Cincinnati and Northeastern, in addition to 15 years coaching high school basketball in Miami.

He knows his hoops history and wants to connect UMass’ present with its past.

“Rebuilding a program, and when I say rebuilding, I'm not talking about what happened last year,” Martin said.

He means reconnecting the current players with legends like Marcus Camby and Julius Erving. Martin walks past alumni Ricky Harris and Derek Kellogg’s offices on the way to his own. Former UMass coach John Calipari, the Kentucky coach Martin clashed with at South Carolina, expressed his excitement for the hire and Martin taking over the program.

“That youthfulness of being around all that newness is really, really exciting,” Martin said. “And anytime you feel young, you feel like growth is important."

Some of that rebirth comes from finally feeling healthy. Martin contracted COVID-19 twice while at South Carolina, and it took a heavy toll on his body and mental health.

“My health is really good again. I went through a tough two-year stretch there with my health,” he said. “When your health ain't good, it's tough to work out, to feel good about yourself and have the energy you need to take on the challenge of this job. Being able to work out on a regular basis again and have the energy to work out and still do my job, I am really excited about where this whole thing's going for me personally.”

As much as UMass has reinvigorated Martin, it’s part of his job to reinvigorate the Minutemen and their fans. Average home attendance has declined every year since 2014, when the Minutemen last made the NCAA Tournament (no fans were permitted during the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 restrictions). Martin knows bringing them back will take more than handing out free hot dogs and T-shirts.

“All that's phony. The end of the day, our players have to be in class, they have to walk around campus,” Martin said. “They can't walk into class with a hoodie on and headphones on and sit in a corner and be not engaging and expect their peers to want to come support them as basketball players. Then the second part is I've got to do my part. I've got to get out in the community. We got to get our players out in the community."

Martin and some of UMass’ other coaches handed out coffee at the Dunkin’ Donuts on University Drive in Amherst. He's visited farms in Hadley. The new coach started to understand the community and found its values align with the way he wants the Minutemen to play.

“The last component, we’ve got to play a brand of basketball that represents this community. I said from the day I got hired, it’s blue collar, hard working, regardless of what the weather's like, people in this community, they get out of bed and they gotta go to work,” Martin said. “We’ve got to represent that and we got to play that way and finalize it with winning. We got to win. We can do all the promotional stuff and have all the gimmicks and gadgets... if you don't win, people aren’t going to come.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.
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